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Sahara Desert Activities

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

When you are teaching students about the Sahara Desert, there is a wealth of diversity both in history and living things that can enrich your lessons. From trade routes to unusual animals, there is more to this desert than meets the eye.

Teaching about the Sahara Desert

Depending on where you live in the United States, your students probably have very little experience with life in the desert, particularly one as large as the Sahara. However, the size and diversity of the Sahara Desert offer opportunities to engage your students in geography, math, and science, so they develop an appreciation for a region most may never get a chance to visit in person.

Animal Adaptations in the Sahara

If you asked your students whether there are animals living year-round in the Sahara Desert, some of them would probably laugh at the question. The reality is that everything from native ant species to desert foxes call it their permanent home. The diversity of life in the Sahara Desert is worth studying with your students.

Materials:

  • Cards with names of different animals that live in the Sahara Desert
  • Resources about the animals that live in the Sahara Desert. Some might be books, but other resources could include a list of prescreened videos from websites.
  • index cards
  • art supplies

Addax are a species of antelope native to the Sahara Desert
Addax

Directions:

  1. Create cards, each with the name of an animal that calls the Sahara Desert home. Try to make them as diverse as possible, including representatives from insects and reptiles to mammals and birds.
  2. Ask students how many different types of animals live in the Sahara Desert. Have them write their name on a piece of paper along with their guess. Put all their guesses in a bag for later.
  3. Explain that the animals that live in the vast Sahara have adapted to live in its harsh environment. Have students brainstorm the kinds of adaptations animals would need to survive. For example, they might say camouflage, storing water, living on very little water, and perhaps even going long periods of time without food.
  4. Students can work in small teams or individually, depending on your preference. Have each team/student draw a card from your pile with an animal that lives in the Sahara Desert. Have them research their animal and come up with ways it has adapted to survive.
  5. Have students use the index card to create an 'Adaptation Trading Card' for their organism. You can have them include basic information on the card, such as size, coloring, and an image, but the main component should be the animal's adaptations to living in the desert.

Extensions: Once students have created their Adaptation Trading Cards, you could group them by type of animals, such as insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Each team could create a graphic organizer about how their particular animal has adapted to live in the Sahara Desert.

Mapping the Sahara Desert

When you tell students that the Sahara is a desert in northern Africa, they may think it similar to the American deserts of New Mexico or Arizona. However, as the largest hot desert and third largest desert overall (after Antarctica and the Arctic), it is far more expansive than any your students have envisioned. Parts of it are dotted with the sand dunes students associate with a desert, but most of the Sahara is made up of hard, rocky plateaus. Sometimes students need a bit of help grasping its scale and topography.

Materials:

  • a large area outside (such as your playground, soccer field, etc.)
  • string
  • stakes
  • small flags
  • long tape measures

Directions:

  1. Before you take your students outside, use stakes and strings to map out a 'Sahara Desert' on your campus. You can even use small flags to mark certain cities, like Timbuktu if you wish. Be sure to determine the scale of your model (length of the actual Sahara Desert divided by your length to determine your scale).
  2. Divide your class into teams.
  3. Take your students outside to a large space in your school. Ask them to guess how large they think it is from one end of your Sahara Desert to the other. Record their guesses.
  4. Have students use tape measures to determine the length of your Sahara desert. Now explain to your students that the actual desert is much, much larger. Have students use the scale you provide them to determine the actual length of the real-life Sahara.
  5. Have teams compare their calculations to your own, and explain to them the actual length of the Sahara Desert.

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